March/April 2004 Issue
EDITORS’ NOTE: This editorial was written before “the scandal” broke followed by the customary cry of “throw the scoundrels out”. What is truly scandalous about this boondogle is what never gets said: it shows the length to which extremists in Ottawa will go to defeat Quebec sovereignty. This perspective is ably presented by our Quebec columnist, Pierre Dostie. We decided to go with the pre-election editorial anyway as our contribution to help shape discussion on the most urgent issues facing this country.
February’s throne speech signalled a spring or summer election. Prudently looking to his left, Liberal political colossus Paul Martin threw a few coins to the people: a pittance for health care, the promise sometime in the future – if the people are good – of maybe more money for the cities, for Aboriginals and toward higher education for the disadvantaged. Not the golden goose but enough to stave off little left-handed Jack. Having skilfully covered his left flank from an axe attack, Martin concluded by recalling the unending need for fiscal vigilance. “This Government will not spend itself into deficit,” he concluded as he had insisted many times before.
We believe that deficits are serious too. We think that there many deficits in Canada, deficits that are accumulating, ones that need to be slashed. In our view, Martin does not take these deficits seriously enough, understandably so, since in his stint as Finance Minister he aggravated if not created many of them.
We want to know what Martin proposes to do about the fairness deficit that has seen the gap between the rich and the poor of this country rise to historically high levels in recent years. We want Martin to act on the famous poverty deficit that the Liberals themselves admit denies a future to millions of children. We would like to learn more about Liberal plans on the housing deficit which denies affordable housing to increasing numbers of Canadian families.
Martin thinks he is addressing the democracy deficit by increasing the role of back-bench members of Parliament. Yippee! Now how about letting the rest of us in.
The PM only added to the peace deficit by selecting as his new defence minister David Pratt, the most pro-war hawk in the Liberal caucus. For among Liberals it was Pratt who was the most outspoken critic of Jean Chretien’s decision to oppose sending Canadian troops into Iraq. And it is Pratt who has been most enthusiastic supporter of George Bush’s Star Wars system. In the telling words of Sheila Copps, the Department of National Defence is pushing Canadian participation “as a way back into the hearts of their American allies” after failing to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year. As for Martin himself, well Paul only sees dollars. Joining up on Stars Wars is a sure fire way of opening the door for Canadian corporations to get a piece of the arms business action.
We would like to see Paul Martin address the human rights deficit which, in the name of a war against terrorism, commits terrorism against Canadians of Muslim and/or Arabic origin, allows arbitrary search and seizure, and distorts immigration and refugee policy, mainly to satisfy the Americans while doing little if anything to enhance safety and security.
There really is a security deficit. But it’s very different than the one Martin is concerned about. Our water is unsafe. Waterton showed that. Our supply of electricity is unreliable. The blackout across Ontario showed that. Our food is unsafe, as the new evidence on contaminated salmon reveals. Our jobs are insecure, made ever more so by unprotected exposure to international competition under free trade and the unwelcome provisions of the WTO. The announcement of the Stelco shut-down is but the most recent indication. Thanks to PM’s cutbacks as Finance MInister, our health care system is seriously compromised. Under proposed changes of the WTO, all of our public services and provisions could be privitized and deregulated – including our water systems, education, the postal service, health care, home care and day care. And under NAFTA’s provision of a continental energy market, our heating bills are already skyrocketing as our finite supply of natural gas is being sucked into the limitless American market.
Then there’s the sovereignty deficit. NAFTA’s Chapter 11 has effectively shifted sovereignty from elected governments to mutinational corporations as governments abandon public policy initiatives to avoid expensive litigation. Now there is every evidence that Martin is being drawn into the camp of the Deep Integrationists – conceding sovereignty to the U.S.A by way of a continental integration of our military, immigration and refugee policies for a start, and moving towards a Customs Union, a continental energy policy, and possibly the U.S. Dollar as our national currency.
But the sovereignty deficit is internal as well ‹the persistent refusal of Canadian governments to restructure the state in a manner that recognizes the historic national aspirations of First peoples and Quebecois.
As Finance Minister, Paul Martin only had to play the worried accountant concerned with the fiscal deficit. But as head of state he needs to be held accountable for all the deficts. They are many. And they are mounting. Here at CD we asked our editorial collective to identify them. We came up with eleven ‹Eleven Deadly Deficits: the peace deficit, the human rights deficit, the security deficit, the poverty deficit, the affordable housing deficit, the environmental deficit, the democracy deficit, the education deficit, the fairness deficit, the crime and scandals deficit and the sovereignty deficit.
We believe these deficits must be slashed. Here are our ideas on some of them. We invite readers to send in theirs.
THE DEMOCRACY DEFICIT
Paul Martin’s parliamentary reforms do nothing to address the democratic deficit. These reform have roots in a rightwing anti-politics which denies both collective action and any enduring social differences. The independent MPs will somehow represent all the different views in their riding, from left to right? No, we’ll be moving in the direction of U.S. politics.
-The first-past-the-post electoral system is barely democratic. It makes a mockery of the principle of fair representation and allows situations where governments elected with the support of a minority of voters and with an even smaller minority of the electorate, are given full power to rule. We need some form of proportional representation to help eliminate this deficit.
PR could assure that all the diversity of Canadian political views can be represented. Better representation of the political spectrum will do a number of things: prevent phoney majority governments from holding essentially dictatorial power; force explicit political coalitions to be formed to govern, increasing the level of public deliberation/scrutiny around such deals.
Also, PR and coalition government would increase the points of access for social movements. It shouldn’t be a question of in-the-streets versus in-the-institutions – we need a strategy that brings our social mobilizing power to bear on the state.
Limiting corporate spending and third party spending in elections and providing public financing of elections is a positive step. But allocating public funds in a way that rewards participants based solely on their success at the polls denies smaller and new parties funding. This urgently needs revision.
These two measures, PR and fair funding, would assure a more representative democracy but however improved, voting for politicians to represent us every few years hardly puts a dent in the democracy deficit. We need participatory democracy along with a better system of representative democracy.
There are many forms this could take:
One is the introduction of a democratic administrative process within the state sector itself, enabling public sector workers to participate in the organization of their workplaces and in the decisions of how to implement government policy – instead of this being structured in the typically hierarchical fashion found in all workplaces and in public institutions like universities and hospitals – governed by boards and agencies run by patronage appointees.
A second is to establish a participatory federal budget process that empowers citizens to help in determining priorities. The Brazilian city of Porte Alegre has done this for several years. The Alternative Federal Budget produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for many years and its provincial equivalents have some participatory features.
The current state of media concentration is an affront to the very principle of democracy which demands that citizens have available diverse expressions of opinion. Freedom of the press and communications at the very least requires that no individual or company should be allowed to own or control more than one means of communication – newspaper, television, cable or radio company.
Democracy would receive a huge boost if we got rid of NAFTA’s Chapter 11. Chapter 11 gives effective veto power to multinational corporations whenever government contemplate measures to protect the environment, introduce new programs or pass legislation of any kind that curtails property rights and that might impinge on present and future profits. Getting rid of Chapter 11 should be one of Canada’s conditions for not abrogating NAFTA.
THE PEACE DEFICIT
The “peace dividend” which was expected to arise as a result of the ending of the Cold War has failed to materialize. Instead, the U.S. has used its position as the sole military superpower to forcibly extend its control in the Middle East and Southern Europe and is threatening pre-emptive strikes against any country which attempts to compete militarily with the U.S. The illegal invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain has clearly established that the United States has become the greatest threat to peace and security in the world today. Canada is linked to the U.S. war machine through both NATO and NORAD and now the federal government is considering integrating Canada even closer to the U.S. through the proposed Missile Defence System, which threatens to trigger a new arms race. With the ending of the perceived threat to Canada from the Soviet Union, there is no rational reason for Canada to continue such a close military relationship with the U.S. In fact, as the American military adventures expand across the globe, such a close military relationship between Canada and the United States will rapidly become a serious security liability for Canadians. In the interest of peace and security, both internationally and for Canadians, the Canadian government should:
refuse to participate in the American Missile Defence System.
withdraw from all joint security projects which result in further integration of Canadian defence with that of the United States. - withdraw from NATO and NORAD.
order the Canada Pension Plan investment board to stop investing our retirement savings in companies that manufacture arms.
prohibit the export of arms and military materials.
THE SECURITY DEFICIT
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights identified clean water, shelter, food, health care and education as basic human rights. These rights and others, like jobs, are increasingly in jeopardy for growing numbers of Canadians. To close the security deficit we need to:
end the NAFTA-driven requirement that Canada cannot reduce its energy sales to the U.S. unless it cuts its own consumption by the same amount. This provision has caused a rapid depletion of our energy resources and a nasty hike in our heating bills. Let this be the second condition for Canada not abrogating NAFTA.
build a national energy grid to ensure a reliable supply of electrical power for our homes and workplaces.
protect the commons – remove water, health care, educational institutions, postal services, day care and other parts of the commons from the negotiation table at future GATS/WTO talks
restore full federal funding to health care and supplement it with a universal prescription drug program.
work with the provinces to establish national clean water standards.
ban toxic substances used in foods like trans fatty acids.
support community-based food security programs.
establish a National Investment Fund along the line developed by the Canadian Labour Congress. (Jim Stanford presented a similar concept in his book, Paper Boom, as has Sam Gindin ) The NIF would fund community and regional job-development banks with monies levied from financial organizations like banks, mutual funds and pension funds. The Fund would offer a less-than-market rate of return which would also be made available to individuals prepared to invest in National Investment Bonds. Locally elected democratically controlled boards would elect representatives to the national board, supplemented by government appointees to ensure accountability to the public at large.
establish business closure legislation to establish community-based enquiries that would investigate why a business is failing and threatening bankruptcy and explore alternative courses of action in the public interest.
where bankruptcy occurs, ensure that the claims of workers, and in particular their pensions, are placed ahead of all other claims on the company assets.
introduce measures to reduce the likelihood of short-term capital flight.
limit the distribution of farm aid to family farms.
THE MULTI-SOVEREIGNTY DEFICIT
Canada is not a collection of provinces and territories. It is a state that involves the unequal coexistence of a dominant and majority English-speaking Canadian nation, a majority French-speaking Quebec nation, and a host of mostly dispossessed and displaced First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. Previous attempts at breaking the constitutional impasse have chosen top-down elitist processes that were successively defeated.
Only the fundamental recognition of Canada’s multi-national reality offers the basis for renegotiating the constitution of the Canadian state.
This is best achieved through a democratic, participatory and feminist method of constitutional negotiation based on political actors delegated by the various national communities.
In this negotiation it is essential that the inalienable rights of Aboriginal peoples to choose their own political destiny, their own way of life, culture, education and government be recognized.
Further, constitutional reform must place at centre the transfer to First Peoples of the resources with which they can build their future.
Constitutional reform should recognize the inalienable rights of the Quebec people to choose their own political destiny, their own way of life, culture, education and government. Quebec is not a province like the rest. As the homeland of a distinct nation, Quebec has a wider claim to jurisdictional authority than other provinces.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL DEFICIT
Fossil fuels such as petroleum and natural gas are used to transport people and goods, heat our homes, generate elecricity and cook our food. They are non-renewable. Once they’re burned there’s that much less for future generations. And burning them causes causes climate change and air pollution. Canada has signed onto Kyoto whose targets are modest indeed. Even so, there is still no plan in sight to meet those targets, let alone ones that would go a distance to shrink this deficit.
Canada needs to follow European nations by undertaking investment in cleaner and renewable energy sources like wind power, solar energy and tidal energy.
invest massively in energy efficient public transit, promote rail transport over truck and air transport and impose sur-taxes on gas guzzling SUVs, mini-vans and other such vehicles.
subsidize the purchase price of more durable, energy efficient goods like hybrid automobiles while imposing a pollution tax on energy inefficient, toxic, and least durable (eg. throwaway) products - subsidize energy-efficient renovations in homes (100% for poorer families) and buildings.
provide anti-sprawl grants to cities that take measures to limit urban sprawl and concentrate growth within existing urban envelopes.